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The possible side effects of the “artistic world”

6 mins read

Trigger warning; Features discussions of suicide

As it is Sylvia Plath’s birthday this week, a popular author of many, I can’t help but reflect on her life. Born on October 27, 1932, she started her journey as a writer at a very young age. She married Ted Hughes, an influential British writer, in England in 1956. Together, they moved back to the US and Plath continued writing poetry. Her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar and poetry anthology called Ariel has become one of the most talked-about pieces of literature of our time. My personal favourite, however, is her collection of journals: The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath.

This collection of journals has been my go-to book whenever I experience any inconvenience at school or my general day-to-day life, for I know that I can relate to that book quite easily. For instance, imagine sitting in your dorm room by yourself; you can hear your flatmates behind the shut door having fun, but know deep down that you don’t want to join them. Perhaps you feel bad about it. Well, guess what, Plath was in the exact situation when she was in college and preferred her own company so she could be alone with her thoughts. Joyce Carol Oates once said of this collection that it is “a genuine literary event…Plath’s journals contain marvels of discovery.” I personally could not agree more.

Image Credit: Audible

We have all heard at least once in our life about a famous songwriter or a poet that has committed suicide out of nowhere, and I have been pondering why we often see big names in the arts ending their own lives.

Sadly, this has been a very common way of leaving this world for a plethora of artists: Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Curt Cobain, Paul Williams and unfortunately many others. What qualities did all of these people share, you ask? I would suggest that each and every one of them found their own world in art, be it literature, music or any other. Not everyone has the courage to do this.

Logistic regression analysis of data from over 21 countries shows that the risk of suicide for artists is 270% higher than that of non – artistic people. However, the reason behind these tragedies has not been resolved yet, despite its frequent occurrence. In Plath’s we could say that there were many factors that influenced her life in a very negative way. For instance, finding out that her husbad, father to her two children, had an affair. Or perhaps the death of her father, to whom she dedicated one of her most significant poems Daddy. All of these events undoubtedly made Sylvia Plath such a strong and powerful artist. What I mean is that she was forced to explore the deepest parts of her mind. Re-live some of the worst moments of her life in order to provide us with such an influential work of art – her writing.

The question is what is it that drives these significant figures to loosing the sense of oneself? Isn’t art what provides shelter to others? An escape from the outside world? One possibility is that their art changes them to the point where the world becomes “too much” and too different from their familiar artistic one. Gradually evolves into somebody else’s world.

Many of us perceive poetry as an escape, a way of hiding from reality. Have you ever wondered why poetry tends to be no longer than a hundred lines? I have and I am sure I can’t be the only one. It’s simply because no one can and should experience that kind of intensity poetry provides for too long.

Imagine being a poet and experiencing these intense feelings every single day. Your life becomes one big poem. one big intense experience. Would you be able to withstand this? Can you even imagine?

Nick Mount, a professor at the University of Toronto, claimed that “poetry is what you do when you can’t do what you want to do.” Ironically, many artists are eventually destroyed by the very thing that made them: their art. In his poetry anthology Birthday Letters, Ted Hughes said the following: “we did what poetry told us to do.”

Considering that we blame the artists for doing what we asked them to do in the first place – that is, to go places the rest of us are too afraid to go or even unable to go – perhaps the reason behind what forces artists to the point of suicide is not what they create in “their world”, but it is our world, the world that calls their world wrong.

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” 


― The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Featured Image Credit: themarginalian.org

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